Apparently in its early heyday there was some dispute as to how much the eponymous Jeremiah Tower actually contributed to the menu direction of Alice Water's seminal Chez Panisse. She would continue to remain vaguely praising of his efforts while he was known to proclaim that she, in turn, made great salads. Halfway through our first course yesterday at lunch at Il Grano, a lusciously composed salad of wild arugula and the first of the season heirloom tomatoes with throat grabbing extra virgin olive oil, we pondered is there anyone in Southern California who does more with such simple fresh ingredients. The meal began with the playful chef coming to the table and offering two tiny cherry tomatoes still on the vine from which we each took one. Then came the salad followed by a most unique and refreshing yellow tomato gazpacho. Thickened to the point of a fine puree it lacked the usual requisite spiciness but had a lovely taste nonetheless. Two pastas arrived in sequence next: a putanesca like penne with pieces of halibut and then a strozzapreti with a hearty Bolognese. We finished with a creme fraiche and strawberry gelato that were easily the best I've had locally. In addition to the regular menu Il Grano now offers two three course prix fixe lunches priced at $16 and $19 which almost makes dining there mandatory. Finally, this is a restaurant that has quietly and confidently risen to the top. With Stefano Ongaro now nicely ensconced in his own place (and with recent management imports from the late Norman's), the service is less personality driven and somewhat more unified, the equal of the best this city has to offer. Bravo!
Sounds like you had some home run dishes. However, there are misses as well. When I was dinning earlier this week the speck with cuttle fish was fine but nothing special. While the Baked Pasta Nepolinate(sp) was not good, under cooked dried pasta, flavorless tomato sauce and bland meat filling. I agree the service is great and the foccacia is wonderful.